Namkeen (Salty Crackers)

Happy New Year, friends. I wish each one of you peace, happiness, good health, prosperity, and good eats in 2013!

Some of you asked me to post a recipe for namkeen. Many of my recents posts have been Indian sweets, and that is because I have an insatiable sweet tooth. Namkeen is a snack that most Indian homes make for tea-time. This recipe is easy, and the namkeens are infused with nigella (kalonji), carom (ajwain), and cumin (jeera) seeds giving them a distinctive, and peppery twist.

For Christmas, I used a star shaped pastry cutter to make the namkeens shown in the picture. But you can also cut them in diamond shapes with a karanji or pizza cutter. I hope your namkeens turn out well.

4½ cups all purpose flour
1¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup oil
½ teaspoon nigella seeds (kalonji)
½ teaspoon carom seeds (ajwain)
½ teaspoon cumin seeds (jeera)
¾ cup water (approximately)
Oil for deep frying

Sift flour, and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour, and salt mixture, and add the oil. In the palm of your hands, lightly crush the nigella, carom and cumin seeds, and add them. Mix the flour, salt, oil, and seeds until the flour is crumbly. Then add water, a little at a time, to make a stiff dough. Cover with a damp towel, and let the dough rest for 20 minutes.

Divide the dough into three parts. Knead each portion again, and make a smooth ball. Roll each ball into a circle that is ¼ inch thick. Cut into diamond shapes. Or, use a small star shaped pastry cutter to cut out little namkeens.

Heat oil in a wok (kadai) over medium-high heat. When you drop the namkeens in the oil they should drop to the bottom of the wok, and come up to the surface of the oil slowly. Each batch that you fry will take at least 10 minutes. Fry the namkeens until they are light brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels, and cool completely before you store them in an airtight container.

Bangalore Vadais

Many years ago I worked in Bangalore, India. My best friend and I lived close to each other so we travelled to work together. On our way back home we had to pass by the vadai man on Mosque Road. There is nothing more intoxicating than the smell of deep fried vadais wafting in the air at 6:30 in the evening. We could not resist the temptation. Hot vadais wrapped in a piece of newspaper never tasted better. It had a crispy exterior and a soft center bursting with a fusion of flavors – onion, garlic, ginger, chilli, mint, cilantro and cinnamon. Those were the good old days when these simple pleasures kept two young girls giggling and happy!

Vadais are often served at tea time and as an accompaniment to a meal. They are made with different types of legumes and lentils. I have used split Bengal gram for these vadais. You will find split Bengal gram at an Indian grocery store. Split Bengal gram is a relative of chickpeas and it is used to make dal and savory dishes. It is also roasted and ground to make Bengal gram flour (besan) which is used to make various sweet and savory Indian dishes. Try this recipe and I hope your vadais and chutney turn out beautifully!

Bangalore Vadais

2 cups chana dal (split Bengal gram)
2 teaspoons dry red chilli flakes
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
½ cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped green chillies
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint leaves
Salt to taste
Oil for deep frying

Wash and soak chana dal overnight. Drain well and remove two tablespoons of dal and set aside. In a blender grind coarsely the dal, chilli flakes, cumin seeds, and cinnamon powder without water. Do this in two batches and it should not be ground to a paste. Remove into a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients except the oil. Add the two tablespoons of dal that was set aside and mix well.

Heat oil in a wok and keep it on medium-high heat throughout the frying process.

Make balls, using about three tablespoons of the vadai mixture, and flatten each one to about two inches in diameter on the palm of your hand. It helps to wet your palm and finger tips slightly before you form each vadai. Slide each vadai gently into the hot oil. Make four to five vadais at a time. Fry until golden brown on bottom, about three minutes. Turn and continue frying until golden brown on second side, another three minutes. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining vadai mixture. Serve with cilantro and mint chutney.

For the Cilantro and Mint Chutney

2 cups roughly chopped cilantro leaves
1 cup fresh mint leaves
3-4 green chillies, chopped
½ teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
Salt to taste

Put all the ingredients in a blender, and purée. Serve with vadais.